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A Civic Center Condo that's Dedicated to Music

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Paul Hogarth throws epic sing-a-longs in a small space

All photos by Patricia Chang

Paul Hogarth doesn't let a little thing like square footage get in the way of a great party and good music. He lives in a 400-square-foot condominium near the heart of Civic Center and roughly a third of it is dedicated to his 1928 Baldwin Grand Piano. The large instrument is surrounded by 10 barstools to accommodate friends who regularly gather around it to sing and drink martinis. The sing-along events have become so popular that attendees have given them a name—Paultuni's, after San Francisco's beloved piano bar Martuni's—and, when the piano needed repairs, they chipped in to get the work done via an Indiegogo campaign (he raised more than the $2,000 he requested).

A photo of Paul Hogarth's home, a 400-square-foot condo that he shares with a large, grand piano.
Paul Hogarth shares a 400-square-foot condo with a grand piano.
All photos by Patricia Chang

Hogarth, who has been playing the piano since he was eight years old, came to own the instrument in a roundabout way. When he moved to Northern California to attend University of California, Berkeley, he gave up piano playing for a more space-efficient guitar. But his eccentric East Bay landlord happened to own this grand piano. "He never played it," Hogarth says. "He had purchased it from a synagogue at a sale, and he hoped to resell it for a profit. Until he could unload it, he let me play it."

His landlord died before realizing a profit on the piano, and Hogarth purchased it from his estate. "I spent $4,000 on it," he says. "I had never paid so much for anything in my life."

Hogarth admits that such a large accessory can be a burden. When he moved to San Francisco to work first for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic and then for Beyond Chron, he spent a fair amount of time in temporary living situations and the piano stayed in storage and with his friends. Only when he purchased this home was he able to be reunited with it in a secure and permanent way. "I don’t have a couch in my apartment," he says. "It’s just my bed and the piano."

Not everyone would be willing to forgo a sofa in order to accommodate live music, but Hogarth, who now works as a campaign director for Daily Kos, says that, for him, it's more necessity than luxury. "Politics can be depressing," he says. "I needed something that was pure joy, pure fun."

Cue the music, because that's where the gatherings come in. He has had as many as 40 people come to his place for to belt out show tunes. He's even printed songbooks so guests can easily make requests and sing along. He decided that food could not be passed in the small space, but there's no limit on drinks—he just keeps a roll of paper towels nearby in case of spills.

Of course, space does impose other limits. "I recently scanned 20 music books, and now all my sheet music is on the iPad," he says. When he has out-of-town guests, they sleep in a sleeping bag under the piano. "A lot of people have," he says. "They seem comfortable."

In addition to going paperless whenever possible, Hogarth limits what he brings into the house, and considers each new acquisition carefully. "Someone gave me a gift of a set of 12 beautiful martini glasses, which was great, but I had to figure out where to put them," he says. "That's when I purchased the bar cart."

It has also necessitated careful space planning. "I used to have the piano by the window and the bed near the kitchen, until a friend suggested I switch them," Hogarth says. "Living in a small space takes some getting used to. Moving the bed near the window, near light and air, made a big difference to me. Many people who market these kinds of homes or micro units try to sell people on using your home as a place to sleep and living out in the city—but I'm something of a homebody and I like to hang out here. Reordering the furniture made that more comfortable." In the current configuration, the bed is by the window, a small table is near the middle of the unit, and the piano and kitchen sit side-by-side on the wall opposite the window.

You might wonder, what is the most requested song at these gatherings? Hogarth responds with laugh that lets you know he sees the humor in the answer: "Every time I have a party, people want to hear 'Piano Man.'"

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